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Winning Stories - Henrietta Branford Writing Competition 2019


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The Branford Boase Award for

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The Orb of Time

by Libby Mercer aged 12 years

The air was thick with the sound of something being torn apart: a wrenching, screeching, groaning sound that made the earth tremble. The smell of smoke was so strong it caught in my throat and pooled like acid on my tongue.

It was scary - terrifying - but exhilarating. After all our work, it was finally happening.


Black smoke swirled in the air, obscuring my streaming eyes. Next to me, I heard Maz spluttering.

The earth gave a long shuddering groan.

Then all was still.

I held my breath for what seemed like an eternity.

Could it really be possible…?

An unbearable silence hung in the air, somehow as deafening as the shattering glass.

And then…

It came.

Stumbling through the murky fug, seven-foot, gangly legs tripping, smooth head bowed.

We froze.

Slowly, it raised its bald head.

And snapped it towards us.

Its face was featureless, except for a single eye, dead centre. Wait - not an eye. An Orb. It was a void of whirling light, pure white streaked with flashes of grey and pearl. The Orb of Time. As beautiful as the moon. Within it I saw a deep power, it bore into me, burrowing into my deepest secrets and greatest fears.

And then…

It reached the secret I had thought was ours.

The secret of time travel.

Ironic, really.

We had just summoned the Guardian of Time!

It stared, almost quizzical.

Then lurched forwards.

“RUN!” I shrieked.

Stumbling through the blinding fog, legs pounding on the floor, hearts beating like caged birds’ wings. But we were no match for It. Although clumsy, the creature was fast, and easily caught up. In his terror, Maz tripped and fell with a thud; the creature hardly noticed. Barely aware of my own surroundings or Maz’s cries, I ran on. In that moment, nothing mattered, only the thud4 of the feet behind me, steadily gaining. I was running for my life. But I wasn’t quick enough.

A claw skewered my shirt, pulling me towards the Guardian. Instead of the rough claw I was expecting, I felt a flash of kinetic energy. Another, shorter, sharper jolt shot through me. Two together. A fifth. Morse code. It was trying to communicate. The stream of sound was fast, but I kept up.

“Hello?” it signalled.

“Hello?” Quickly I replied, “What do you want?’’

Its eye hardened, milky white galaxy spinning dizzily fast. “I need the secret. Of how you summoned me.” Quicker than lightning, it pulled the Orb of Time from his head and tossed it to the floor. The second it hit the ground, the ball smashed into shards. In its place, a portal exploded before me, pulling everything around it in with terrifying force. Before I had time to think, the creature grabbed my arm, and we tumbled forwards.

Blacks and greys flashed past my eyes, racing at unimaginable speeds. I closed my eyes, unable to bear the nausea. Faster and faster we hurtled, my head almost split open, every fibre of my being screaming out, until -

Our feet touched the ground softly as we landed. Taking a moment to steady myself, I looked in astonishment at the scene around me. We were in Erlangs study. Professor Erlang was at her cluttered desk, brow furrowed gazing at her most recent papers. I felt a surge of joy and leaped forwards. “Erlang, the Orb – it worked! We can travel in time! But then…” I stopped, realisation dawning. “wait -”

“Hey Prof” shouted a familiar voice. I spun around. Maz was strolling through the lab to Erlang with… me? I stared in disbelief as we approached Erlang. She hurriedly cleared a space among the masses of paperwork and peculiar knick-knacks and Maz and my duplicate perched awkwardly. All three completely ignored the Guardian and me. I swivelled round again. Behind me, the creature gazed in interest at the unfolding scene, the Orb somehow back in place as its eye. But if the creature had got me here, then that meant… if the orb …

Maz’s voice drew me back to the conversation. “Do you realize what this means? With time-travel, we could stop wars, we could save lives, we could –”

Erlang cut him off: “But only if it’s done properly.”

Maz ground his teeth in frustration. “We’re ready. We have to be.”

My duplicate quickly added: “Professor, you’re one of the world’s greatest scientists. If you don’t get this right…who will?”. Erlang thought a second…

“I know it’s frustrating, but we’ll wait. The time is not right.”

Maz leaped to his feet, temper getting the better of him. “I’m leaving.” He strode out pausing at the door. “Cal?” My duplicate fidgeted. “… Sure.” Maz turned, satisfied, and, with an apologetic glance at Erlang, the other me followed.

The memory faded as Maz and I left the scene, only to be replaced with another vision. We were in the lab, a mere hour ago. I watched as Maz and I entered the room, immersed in conversation. “Maz, is it ethical? Should we be doing this? If it backfires Erlang will find out!”

“STOP!” Maz silenced me. “I - don’t know. But we can do this. The sooner we have the Orb of Time, the better.” We were quiet for a second. “Okay Maz” I exhaled.

Maz smiled, relieved. “Come on,” he said, gesturing to the far end. We approached cautiously. Before us stood a looming glass chamber in which the Orb would materialise. Next to it - a silver lever.

Maz stepped up to pull… then down again. “Callum… you do it.” I shivered. “No way. You should.” Maz sighed. “Fine.” He grinned, despite his obvious nervousness. Hands on the lever, he cried “Three! Two! One!”

A boom shattered the room.

I didn’t need to see the rest to remember; the tension as we waited, the shock of realisation that we had summoned the Orb’s guardian, the terror as we ran, the…

Did it matter anymore? It had won. It knew the secret - and how to clone the Orb. We had failed.

And yet…

What was that hand, reaching towards me, pulling me up? What was that eye, kind even after all it had seen? What was that heart of a creature’s, beating real as mine?

Because maybe, really…

Secrets are better shared?

20th Anniversary !

Vranda Radia |  Rachel Byrne  |  Ben Robotham  |  Rosa Johnson  |  
Libby Mercer |  Sonya Clutton Mendias